TheReligiousLeft.org

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Nude King Takes it By the Bit: Five Questions with Becky Garrison

Originally posted 4/13/12 by The Amish Jihadist at The Other Journal

Becky Garrison may very well be Christianity’s most interesting court jester. This week she stopped by in order to drop a few f-bombs (‘f’ as in funny, man) on the unsuspecting religio virtuosos.

May her words bring you much pain and joy.

But, mostly pain.

FIVE QUESTIONS WITH BECKY GARRISON

1) Despite Martin Luther’s incredible propensity for being a major a**hole, he was, to his credit, quite funny. In all of Christianity’s rich tradition of theologians, clerics, activists, mystics, saints and, well, a**holes, who do you think is the funniest?
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Where does one start? I mean the dichotomy of anyone claiming to be a follower of Christ while hacking infidels to bits can be quite hysterical if one chooses to interpret Church history through a Monty Pythonesque lens. The sight of say Adam, Noah, Isaiah, or King David running around buck nekkid would either make me tingly, giggly or nauseous depending on the earthly visage set before me. Ever notice how the fundy faithful tend to leave out the passages where the men were running about exposing their boy bits, get rip roaring drunk and other moves that are major no-nos within the world of Americana Christianity? By the way, speaking of sex-obsessed Christians, try to think of anything funnier than watching a bunch of white male Republicans perform a reacharound the Bible and the Constitution during this 2012 election cycle.
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Speaking of exposing oneself, folks should check out your book The Devil Wear’s Nada. Yes, this is a gratuitous plug but this is some good godstuff – though, as you note, when you strip the devil down to his tidy whities, in the words of Mae West when she encountered a room full of musclemen in Sextette (1978), he’s all meat and no potatoes. Given my druthers, I’d rather hang with the Naked Pastor and if we want to get crazy, we can invite Asbo Jesus over for a threesome.

In Jesus Died for This? and Besides the Bible, I paid homage to my idol Jonathan Swift. Rather than regurgitate what has already been penned, here’s my short essay from  Besides the Bible.
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“Whenever men try to erect God in their own image, satirists like Jonathan Swift deconstruct their prized creations. As an Anglican clergyman living in Ireland, the Rev. Swift employed his pen to address the massive ills he saw before him. His masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), presented readers with a satirical romp through the petty socio-political follies that casts a dark shadow on modernity’s claim to be an enlightened beacon pointing the way toward a brighter future. Swift took these reflections further in “A Modest Proposal” (1729), a satirical essay that actually convinced people he intended for the poor to eat their own children as a means to alleviate poverty. Those reading the book with twenty-first century eyes will find Swift’s commentary still speaks to a world that continues to be ripped asunder by religious and political strife. When Swift started shooting the church’s sacred cows, he uncovered spiritual mistruths that one can still find creeping around contemporary churches. For example, how would a gathering of Christians respond if their leader stood up and in lieu of a sermon read Swift’s essay, “An Argument to Prove that the Abolishing of Christianity in England May, as Things Now Stand Today, be Attended with Some Inconveniences, and Perhaps not Produce Those Many Good Effects Proposed Thereby” (1708)? Hopefully, they could see the irony present in Swift’s critique of those who claim to be Christian without taking seriously the claims set forth by Jesus for those who want to be his disciples. But given the group god-think that tends to permeate too many Christian gatherings, I suspect many of them would get so caught up in their own prescribed sets of beliefs that they would take Swift’s message at face value. In doing so, they would mistake his message as yet another voice denying the resurrection and other postmodern anti-God talk. While Swift might have wielded a satirical sword, he also walked the walk. During his tenure as Dean of the Cathedral, he built an alms house for elderly women who were unable to support themselves. Also, Swift became sickened by the way mentally ill people were put on display for the public as though they were circus freaks. Upon his death, he left a fortune of 12,000 pounds to found a hospital for those suffering from mental illness. These accomplishments aren’t chronicled in the ostentatious display of Swift memorabilia one finds when touring St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin where Swift served as Dean. But one can find items such as his table, a marble bust, his chalice, copies of “A Modest Proposal” and other works under glass, a cast of his skull, and his death mask. One can also find his grave with the epitaph:
 
Here is laid the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of
Divinity, Dean of this Cathedral Church, where
fierce indignation can no longer rend the heart. Go,
traveler, and imitate if you can this earnest and dedicated
champion of liberty. He died on the 19th day of
October 1745 AD. Aged 78 years. 

This call to action rings true for Christians today. Do we dare follow in Swift’s footsteps by being a prophetic witness to a hurting world? What keeps us from smashing those idols that keep people away from the love of God?”

2) In your latest book, Ancient Future Disciples, you claim to be interested in knowing how “more radically inclusive Episcopalian communities work.” Is this anything like the Episcopalian rector ambushing me with a bunch of dirt on his hands a few weeks ago (while I was minding my own business waiting for my hot chocolate) or is this a different kind of inclusiveness?

I use the term “radical inclusiveness” to reference those churches who try to live out the baptismal covenant whereby one welcomes “all.” This means you have a church governed not by political correctness to the left or a set of rigid doctrinal statements on the right, but a real push to “try” and put the Greatest Commandment into practice (Matt. 22:36-40). In these communities, one finds diversity in gender, sexual orientation, ethnicities and political leanings. They’ve moved well beyond these ongoing conversations one finds in even progressive evangelical circles where one may “talk” about affirming women and LGBT people but their leadership remains dominated by white men who self-identify as straight. Instead, one finds LGBT folks, women and people of color at all levels of leadership. Your call which picture more accurately represents the Kingdom of God.
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3) I was recently referred to, in a book review, as an “impenitent class clown”. At first, I was offended. Then I re-read it and discovered that I confused impenitent for . . . um . . . another word. Truth be known, I was quite relieved. Does this mean I have ‘MaDS’ (Mark Driscoll Syndrome–and yes, I just coined that term)?
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I’m not nearly saved or Bible blessed enough to engage with Mark’s pastoral privates.
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Next.
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4) You’re stranded on a deserted island with the complete works of Christopher Hitchens, Rob Bell, and Joyce Meyers. Explain to me the process of determining whose work is used for toilet paper, kindling, and then, if necessary, paper-cutting yourself to death.
a
Regarding Christopher Hitchens, my question here is which Hitch are you referencing? He had me laughing my ass off until he veered to the right and supported the Iraq War. In theory, I agreed with much of his anti-fundamentalist rantings though he lost me when his scholarship got sloppy, e.g. Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not nebulous humanists. I expected better from a mind like his. But having said that, I suspect if I used God is not Great Hitchens as kindling, they’d send up enough of a stink that a rescue plane would find me and I’d find myself unexpectedly saved by Hitch.
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I love finding and promoting new voices like Rob Bell who really break some new ground. Unlike say the Joel Osteens of the world, they actually have something unique to say . . . that is of course as long as they refuse to buy into this commercialized crud. Bell’s books follow a pattern: you find this with every holy hipster or religious rock star who leaves their community to hit the Christian conference circuit. As their focus shifts from exploring where the spirit is moving to honing a performance piece they can sell to the masses, they serve up their favorite faith hits designed to give the crowd that happy-happy-joy-joy warm faith fuzzies instead of really exploring where the spirit might be speaking.
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That’s why I tell new authors to be very careful of agents or publicists who try to brand them to the Christian (read “evangelical”) market because once a author gets labeled as missional, organic, emergent or whatever the brand du jour might be, they become akin to a kick ass musician who cuts a car commercial or goes on American Idol. While they have the bucks and the fan base, they lost their street cred in the process and possibly even their soul. Yes, they might be humming a slightly edgier and hipper tune but it’s still repackaged evangelism. Albeit in cooler clothes and with candles. And Cold Play. With. Candy. Crystals. See how easy it is to do Rob Bell? Oh hell. Or maybe. Not.
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When it comes to Joyce Meyers, I propose simply burying the works of any author who writes for FaithWords, Howard, Tyndale and others who are to the extreme right of the Christian carnival. (I can find some decent stuff with Zondervan, Baker and IVPress but that’s about it these days when it comes to books marketed to the evangelical Christian market.) Given Meyers’ prodigious output, I should have enough fertilizer for a decent veggie garden. Mmmmm . . . corn. If only it was completely digestable. Oops, TMI. Sorry about that.
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5) I’m wondering if Christianity has anything interesting left in its tank. It’s either emerging, or its pre-modern self is trying to ‘out’ post its post-modern self, or we are inundated with calls for revolution or reformation, or we inherit catch phrases like “I love Jesus but I hate Christianity” or “I’m a Christ follower/the church sucks” or ”Look at how radical I am because I read Gregory of Nyssa”–well, not so much the latter, but you get what I’m saying. Everything is just so absolutely trendy, marketable, branded, Christian-published-buttressed and temporally fashionable that I am inclined to just jump into the abyss with Evan Williams and my favorite madman Friedrich Nietzsche. As a matter of fact, I think we are all already in the abyss. Kierkegaard would probably agree. That’s enough for me. Anyway . . . on the off-chance that Christianity does have something in it still worth ‘salvaging’, where is it and what does it look like?
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How Christian communities respond to the cultural shifting regarding LGBT people will determine if Christianity can claim any street cred in the 21st century. (I’m penning blog postings at the Revealer to document the changing socio-political and religious landscape on this topic.) Will the church be able to embrace the new developments in theology, science, psychology, law and other disciplines that clearly indicate “homosexuality” is not a disorder and that human sexuality is much more fluid and varied than the missional male model advanced in Genesis 2? What does it man that God created human (ad-ham) and that it was very good? (Gen. 1:26).
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Check out John and Catherine Shore’s post over at Believe Out Loud for a concise debunking of the clobber texts that have been used for far too long as weapons against LGBT people. My apologies to anyone I may have harmed when I employed this weaponry in the ’80s and early ’90s.
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Now that the majority of Americans support marriage equality and legislation legalizing same sex marraige continues to be passed by state legislatures, will churches open up their doors to marrying same sex couples and blessing their families? Or will they turn a blind eye as LGBT teens get bullied to death and rendered homeless by so-called “Christians?” How will the church deal with the ongoing discrimination faced by transgender and gender nonconforming people?
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Already, I am seeing some significant shiftings in more liberal mostly mainline settings around the issue of human sexuality where books like Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology (published by Church Publishing) break down the developments happening in academica around this topic so they can be understood by a lay audience. However, as I noted over at Ship of Fools, the evangelical communities lag considerably behind. Despite my numerous inquiries, to date no one listed on the Red Letter Christians page as a blogging friend or contributor has spoken out regarding host Tony Campolo’s comparison of the RLC’s theology to that of the Family, a group with proven ties to the anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Can one be pro-gay and remain silent when leading progressive evangelical voices make statements of this nature? Ask a Ugandan gay teen and see what he says.  Or if you want to go a bit closer to home, have a conversation with some LGBT folks about how they felt when Sojourners rejected a very inoucous and apolitical LGBT welcome ad (over at Believe Out Loud, I attempt to unpack what I now term as the Sojourners Snafu). Again, one has to ask why some who claim to be pro-gay sided with Sojourners here or stood silent.
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Yes, I know some progressive evangelicals claim to be pro-gay and I’ve encouraged them to speak out even if it means risking their book sales, speaking gigs and the like. One cannot market oneself as pro-gay unless one is willing to stand up to people like Campolo, Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne and tell them that they will no longer subscribe to this affirming but not welcoming stance on LGBT rights that dominates evangelical theology, nor will they attend events or support institutions predominately led by white evangelical/emergent males. Just as the church was wrong when it came to segregation and women’s rights (though I admit the church and society still has considerable work to do on this end), it’s time for Christians to fess up and admit that the church was wrong when it came to fully embracing LGBT folks just as they are and granting them the same rights and rites as everyone else.

Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches.. Her books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.

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